An excerpt from the book The SuperStress Solution by Roberta Lee, M.D.
Meditation, one of the most commonly practiced mind-body interventions, is a mental exercise that induces relaxation and the physiological changes that accompany it. For people with SuperStress, the greatest benefit of meditation is the way it allows the mind to reverse the physiological effects of the stress response. Meditation done properly can slow your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. It ensures that you use oxygen more efficiently, and it diminishes the amount of cortisol produced by your adrenal glands and slows the rate at which your mind ages. Meditation has been scientifically shown to energize people who are sleep deprived, to improve concentration, and to strengthen the very structure of our brains as we age. As a SuperStress intervention, meditation can restore your body to a calm state, encourage self-repair, and prevent new damage due to the physical effects of stress.
Of the many approaches to meditation, the three most popular in the United States are mindfulness meditation, Transcendental Meditation, and focused meditation. Mindfulness meditation, which is rooted in the teachings of Buddhism, is based on the concept of awareness and total acceptance of the present. While meditating, you're directed to bring all your attention to the sensation of the flow of the breath in and out of the body. The goal is to focus attention on the present and the sensations you're feeling in that moment.
Transcendental Meditation, which originated in India, uses mantras (a word, sound, or phrase repeated silently) to prevent distracting thoughts from entering the mind. Popularized in the West by Ayurvedic medicine's maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Transcendental Meditation is a blissful relaxer. Meditators who engage in this practice are given a mantra by a teacher (or select their own) and repeat it while letting their minds drift naturally and effortlessly into a heightened state of awareness. Numerous studies of Transcendental Meditation have tested its effectiveness in countering stress. In one study, two groups were evaluated for hormonal changes in response to specific stressors before and after four months of either learning the Transcendental Meditation technique or generalized education on how to manage stress. The results showed significantly different results. In the group who practiced meditation cortisol levels decreased, but cortisol levels remained the same in the members of the group who studied conventional relaxation techniques. Overall, the results appear to support previous data suggesting that repeated practice of Transcendental Meditation reverses some of the physical effects of chronic stress.
Focused meditation is just as it sounds. You focus intently on a single object as a way of staying present in the moment.
How to Meditate
1. Find a quiet place and sit in a comfortable position. Progressively relax all the muscles in your body, and if it feels comfortable to you, close your eyes (unless you're doing focused meditation--see below).
2. Choose a word, phrase, prayer, or object that has special meaning to you or makes you feel peaceful--or just concentrate on your breath.
3. Breathe slowly and naturally. Inhale through your nose then hold the inhalation a few seconds. Exhale through your mouth, again pausing for a few seconds at the bottom of your exhale. Silently say your word, phrase, or prayer as you exhale. Repeat.
4. As you finish, continue to focus on your breathing as you sit quietly. Becoming aware of where you are, slowly open your eyes and ge up. (If you have to keep track of the time, try using an alarm or timer set on the lowest volume, so you don't have to keep looking at your watch or clock.
Roberta Lee, M.D., author of The SuperStress Solution, is vice chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine, director of Continuing Medical Education, and co-director of the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel's Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Lee attended George Washington University Medical School and is one of the four graduates in the first class from the Program of Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona conducted by Andrew Weil, M.D.
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